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Interview: Damon Runyan

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Sons of Anarchy recently ended its seven year fun on FX. That series opened up the lifestyle and culture of biker clubs to many people who didn’t know much about it. Of course, Sons of Anarchy was a fictional series and took some liberties with its storytelling, but it did give the average viewer a glimpse into the minds of the men and women who are involved with these clubs.

On February 24th, the History Channel will premiere its new series Gangland Undercover based on the true life of Charles Falco. The series follows Charles who is the only man brave enough to sneak into three outlaw biker gangs and live to tell the tale, Charles Falco, author of “Vagos, Mongols and Outlaws,” goes from convict to infiltrator as he secretly documents the Vagos’ illegal activities and ultimately brings them to justice. Playing the lead character Charles Falco is Canadian born actor Damon Runyan.

Damon is no stranger to the small screen with a recurring role on the hit Syfy series Haven. He’s also appeared in series such as Lost Girl, Nikita, Supernatural and Degrassi: The Next Generation. Switching it up a bit, he’s appeared in the television movies One Starry Christmas and Midnight Masquerade for the Hallmark Channel. Not one to sit around and wait for opportunities, Damon wrote and directed the short Cassidy which took home the Audience Choice Award and a Best Actor Award win for Damon at the 2013 National Film Challenge.

Damon sits down with us to discuss his new series Gangland Undercover, learning about the biker culture, working with the Hallmark Channel and what he looks for in his next project.

Pop Culture Principle – What attracted you to the History Channel’s Gangland Undercover?

Damon Runyon – First and foremost, the story is amazing. The path of redemption that Charles Falco went on was incredible. To go from an addicted, meth dealer getting busted and facing 22 years in prison, yet somehow circumventing the system to infiltrating the biker gang for three years was just insane. I’ve always wanted to ride a motorcycle, but never had the insurance to do it. The biker culture has always been really attractive to me.

Gangland Undercover

Pop Culture Principle – Can you tell us what the series is about?

Damon Runyan – The book is split into three parts, so the first season is how Charles infiltrates the gang. In the first episode, you get a break down of how he got to where he is. The first six episodes, you go on the journey of the three year infiltration.

Pop Culture Principle – What kind of preparation did you do for the role? Did you get the chance to talk with Charles Falco?

Damon Runyan – Yes, he was very open and I still text with him daily. Surprisingly, he’s not in witness protection anymore, but he does remain somewhat conspicuous. In terms of preparation, he helped me with the going undercover aspect of it and the fact that what you need to do is find the weakest link and befriend that person and the rest of the gang. As an actor, I was looking for faults in the other characters were I could exploit their own insecurities and man up in front of them. My character had to fight his way in, which obviously was scripted, but we did work out the fight sequences a little more in depth in terms of how brutal they were. The whole navigating of what is right and wrong was an interesting aspect as well. You are getting drunk and staying up all night and smoking weed non-stop and you are a live wire. You have to be on all the time, but at the same time, you are struggling to keep your own cognizance and whereabouts.

He also helped me out a lot with the ATF and how that all took place. At first, he was untrustworthy of the system, but he was also desperate. As an actor, I didn’t want to go right to the we’re good and he’s bad or vice versa, so he helped me with the nuances of that-befriending someone you would not normally hang out with.

Gangland Undercover

Pop Culture Principle – Before you took the role, did you know anything about the biker lifestyle and what interesting things did you learn about their lifestyle?

Damon Runyan – It’s funny, my father used to own a catering business and a café and he had some guys who were rough around the edges do some renovations for him. This was back when I was in my teens and they were holding my father kind of hostage for payments after they did the renovations. My father kind of filled me in on the story while I was getting ready for this role. Initially, I only really knew about the lifestyle from what you will see on television. I’ve done the cross country ride a couple of times from Toronto to LA and when they roll up on you as a gang, it is crazy intimidating. Obviously we are actors and not real bikers, but the guys playing the bikers, there is a brotherhood that forms and that is totally appealing to me. I mean, I have friends who have my back, but I don’t have thirty guys who will show up and have my back. These guys literally hang out with each other six or seven days a week. The nefarious side of it is obviously not for everyone, but that brotherhood is very attractive. When you are riding a bike, you really feel like you are in control of your own destiny and physically you are susceptible to everything.

Pop Culture Principle – You also have another project upcoming called Prisoner X. Can you tell us about this film and your character Fischer?

Damon Runyan – I play a CIA interrogator and we have captured a time travelling Jihadist. At first, we don’t know he is a time travelling Jihadist, but as the story goes forward, we find out that he is from the future and that he has the time space continuum equation. I am trying to get that formula out of him and at the same time, these cataclysmic events are happening around the world. So, it’s kind of a ticking time clock in the sense that we have to figure out who this guy is before the apocalypse happens.

It’s a psychological thriller and my character has a horrible back story. He lost his wife and son and would love to go back and correct his mistakes and right the wrongs. That is another underlying current of the film, not just the science fiction, thriller aspect. I loved the fact that the film is not just about the job, but also getting back to your family.

Gangland Undercover

Pop Culture Principle – The main character Ramiro is suspected to be a time traveler. Do you believe time travel is or will be possible in the future?

Damon Runyan – I mean, I did some research on that and it does seem like it is somewhat possible when you look at black holes. Something that was unexplainable before now has the possibility of an explanation. I do believe it is possible and it’s kind of the missing link for all of us.

Pop Culture Principle – The film was funded by the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. Was that your first experience with crowdfunding?

Damon Runyan – Yea, basically the money we raised was the final bridge money to take it from a really low budget movie to a low budget movie. It was also used to market the film better and put the finishing touches on it. They had $250,000 in place already and raised another $30,000 on Indiegogo. It was my first experience with crowdfunding and they asked me to help out. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Something that amazed me is that they had an executive producer credit that was one of the perks and it was relatively cheap. I thought that if anybody wanted to get into the business, this is much cheaper than film school and you can actually come and work for three weeks and be an executive producer. So, I think it’s beneficial for both sides and with the world needing more content, I think that is probably the way of the future.

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Pop Culture Principle – Taking a different turn, you’ve worked on several movies with the Hallmark Channel. What was your experience like working on those projects?

Damon Runyan – Last year I did two movies with them and I had done a couple before that and they are great. The shoots are only three weeks and you basically get in and get out, especially with One Starry Christmas. A friend of mine was one of the producers on that film and called me up to ask me if I would be interested. It’s funny because I had recently played darker roles or was the suit guy in a project, so he brought me in to play a cowboy and it was a dream come true. My grandfather was into westerns and I would watch a lot of them with him and I sort of forgot about that. So, when that project came to me, it was like bringing him back to life.

One Starry Christmas is a good movie and I think it could hold its own outside the Hallmark universe. It’s got heart and well connected. Midnight Masquerade we shot in only ten days and it was fun. I got to play a complete douchebag which I relish in. You get to come in, score and then walk out.

What’s funny is that the online social media and how people are so adverse to those characters. When One Starry Christmas came out, people were paying me compliments and when Midnight Masquerade was released, they fans were quite venomous and really didn’t’ like that character.

Pop Culture Principle – Your short Cassidy won you a Best Actor award and the film won the Audience Choice Award at the 2013 National Film Challenge. Can you talk about getting that project off the ground?

Damon Runyan – I always talk about doing my own thing. When you are an actor, you are kind of a hired gun and the project is someone else’s vision. I’ve been writing for a long time and every time you start working, you have to put something away. I started doing these 48 Hour Film festivals where you will have a finished product at the end of the weekend.

So, with Cassidy I was inspired by a show on the CBC radio up here about euthanasia and it was this investigation into this couple who were in their mid-30s. The husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer and they both agreed at some point that they would make the decision on how they would proceed forward. Even just talking about this makes me emotional.

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Cassidy is essentially the last night of this man’s life in which he throws a party with his wife to celebrate the good times before he leaves. That was a hard thing to do because my real life wife played my wife in the film and we were saying goodbye for real on camera. Many of my friends who are actors are also in the film and we were all committed to what it would be like to say goodbye and make that decision.

Pop Culture Principle – Are you looking to do more writing, producing and directing in the near future?

Damon Runyan – Yes, for sure, that’s what I want to do. I have this project called When the Shooting Stops which is kind of a dark, action comedy. It’s like Napoleon Dynamite meets State and Main. It’s about an aging martial artist who still thinks he’s going to be a movie star. He lives in a small town and runs a bar/do jo and this movie comes into town. It’s an action movie and his hero is one of the stars. He tries and fights his way to get a part in the film. It’s the delusional desires that we all believe that we can be a star and are waiting to be discovered, but aren’t doing anything about it.

Pop Culture Principle – Technology has changed so much in the last 10-15 years. Would you agree that this changing technology is also changing the way films are being made?

Damon Runyan – It’s crazy. I purchased a 7D about four years ago and even that is out of date. I mean, it still holds up, but I just can’t believe how every year it seems you have to upgrade your equipment. I’ve realized that the only thing you should actually put money into is the lens because the glass never changes. Technology is definitely changing the game and sometimes when you get on set you realize that we don’t need all this stuff.

Pop Culture Principle – You’ve guest starred on shows such as Lost Girl, Supernatural, Smallville and Haven to name a few. Do you find it easy coming in as a guest star on shows that have been on the air for a while?

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Damon Runyan – Gangland was the first show where I was the series lead. Everything else I’ve done I was either supporting or the guest star. Throughout the four and a half months we worked on Gangland, you see yourself in other people. When a guest star or a day player would come in, you see all the habits they have and how some come in and think it’s all about them when it’s really about the story. I am sure I have made the same mistake myself.

A guest star is a little better because it’s usually shot over the course of the episode. I did a recurring on Haven and they spread it out over a month for the two episodes that we were shooting, so you kind of become part of the family. On the other side of the coin, once you have the family in place and new people come in, it’s up to the lead to make them welcome.

You gain an appreciation for what it takes to really open your heart to other people and make the story about them as well. I’ve had experiences where I’ve come in and you are a guest star but they shoot you out in a day. You are banging through the scenes and now the pressure is on you. The regular cast are there on a daily basis, so it’s easy for them to sit in the character. The last time you were in this character was in the audition room. Generally, the acting community is really supportive and if you are good, that’s what the job is to open yourself up to the other person and take the mask off.

Pop Culture Principle – What do you look for when you are choosing your next project?

Damon Runyan - If you have the luxury of doing that, I look for the writing; the writing is the key. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been able to be a chameleon in terms of the roles I’ve been getting. I just look for where the heart of it is and where I can connect to the character’s heart. I think acting is kind of like you at a thousand different addresses. When you find the address that you’ve never been to before, it’s exciting.

Pop Culture Principle – Any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?

Damon Runyan – At the moment, we are waiting for Gangland to hopefully get picked up for a second season and if it does, we start shooting in May and that kind of takes me out of everything for the rest of the year. I am doing a play for two months and I have a window between April and May, so hopefully I can get my own projects up and running.

We would like to thank Damon for taking the time to sit down and talk with us. You can catch the series premiere of Gangland Undercover: The True Story of Charles Falco this Tuesday, February 24th at 10/9C. If you would like to keep up with all of Damon's latest news and projects, you can follow him on Twitter here.
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